Indigenous Of The Amazon In Rome © REPAM

Church and indigenous peoples: the architecture of reconciliation

The note on the “doctrine of discovery” is part of what we might call the architecture of reconciliation, and is also the product of the art of reconciliation, the process in which people engage in listening to each other, talking to each other and growing in mutual understanding.

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(ZENIT News / Roma, 03.30.2023).- Speaking of historical injustices and war crimes in his encyclical Fratelli Tutti, Pope  Francis says

“it is easy to be tempted to turn the page, to say that all these things happened  long ago and we should look to the future. For God’s sake, no! We can never move  forward without remembering the past; we do not progress without an honest and  unclouded memory” (Fratelli Tutti, 249)

In the Note on the “Doctrine of Discovery’ (published today by the Dicastery for Culture  and Education and the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development), the Holy  See is looking carefully at the Church’s history and its regrettable association with the  ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ which was called in aid by various colonial powers against  indigenous peoples, in various parts of the world, as a justification for the expropriation  of their history and the undervaluation and elimination of their cultures.

The Note recognizes that the Papal Bulls on which the colonial powers staked their claims  did not adequately reflect the equal dignity and rights of indigenous peoples and that the  documents were manipulated by those powers to justify immoral acts against indigenous  peoples that were carried out without opposition at times from ecclesiastical authorities.  The ‘doctrine of discovery’ was not part of the teaching of the Catholic Church, and it is  repudiated in this Note, but this tragic history reminds us of the need to be ever more  vigilant in our defense of the dignity of all people and the need to grow in knowledge and  appreciation of their cultures. Specifically, as Pope Francis reminded us in his encyclical  Laudato Si’:

“it is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their  cultural traditions… For them, land is not a commodity but rather a gift from God and  from their ancestors who rest there, a sacred space with which they need to interact if  they are to maintain their identity and values” (Laudato Si’, 146).

This Note is part of what we might call the architecture of reconciliation and also the  product of the art of reconciliation, the process whereby people commit to listening to  each other, to speaking to each other and to growth in mutual understanding. In that sense,  the insights that inform this Note are themselves the fruit of a renewed dialogue between the Church and indigenous peoples. It is in listening to indigenous peoples that the Church  is learning to understand their sufferings, past and present and our own failings. It is in  cultural dialogue that we are committed to accompanying them in the search for  reconciliation and healing. We have to live out the art of encounter.

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